Global Observer

Toymaker turns to bamboo for material and inspiration

Toymaker turns to bamboo for material and inspiration

Posting in Design

HONG KONG -- China's iconic bamboo has become a German toymaker's signature material, propelling the brand to the forefront of sustainable manufacturing.

Bamboo stacking blocks on display at last week's Hong Kong Toy Fair

HONG KONG — Like most toy companies, Germany-based Hape manufactures its wares in China. But Hape is more Chinese than most in its choice of material.

The company uses bamboo, an iconically Chinese resource, as the alternative to wood for a line of its building blocks and puzzle games — and it has become a tangible part of Hape's mission to be a maker of sustainable toys.

A fast-growing plant, bamboo can be fully regenerated in a matter of months. The shoots also happen to be sponges for carbon dioxide. The resulting toys feel light yet hardy, while the unusual material adds a level of sophistication to the brand’s designs.

One of Hape’s simplest and most elegant toys is a set of stacking blocks for very young children that was designed jointly with Bauhaus University. Each “block” is little more than a segment of bamboo sliced at an angle. The edges are coated with red and blue felt, which creates friction that allows the blocks to be stacked.

“We tried to take the traditional play pattern and tweaked it to make it eco-friendly,” said Daniel Levy, Hape’s marketing manager.

The company started developing bamboo toys in 2004 after it hosted a UNESCO-supported workshop in a bamboo-rich area of China. Hape has since established a facility dedicated to product design next to its own bamboo forest.

At its factories in Ningbo, near Shanghai, the company employs a slew of eco-friendly practices, according to Levy. One such technique is pressing paint onto the toys instead of spraying, which saves paint and the necessary energy for drying.

Hape also says that its packaging uses no plastic, while organic inks are used for printing.

While the company strongly markets itself as a producer of sustainable toys, its representatives tend to speak of this eco element in a matter-of-fact way. Levy said toys with eco-friendly qualities are not a rarity. “Consumers expect it now,” he said.

Share this

Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure